Chief Misel Joe of Conne River is coming to Clarenville, NL, today.
His visit has a specific purpose.
The Chief of the Miawpukek Mi’kamawey Mawi’omi First Nation Reserve
on the province’s south coast will be here to talk about community justice and how the formal court process doesn’t necessarily have to be the only way to deal with adult offenders.
Jenny Reid, staff solicitor with the Newfoundland and Labrador Legal Aid Commission in Clarenville, is one of the people involved in organizing the meeting.
She told The Packet the intent of the meeting is to engage local people in a discussion on the possibility of establishing an alternative justice program for adults in this community.
Currently the only option for adults who are charged with offences is through a formal court process.
Reid explains that under an alternative (restorative) justice program, adults charged with some offences would have the option to be dealt with by the community. Reid says the idea is similar to the process used by aboriginal groups in this province and across Canada, using healing circles and community conferences to deal with some offenses.
Read notes the province of Nova Scotia is a leader in alternative justice and has been using a restorative justice program since for adults since 2011.
Reid, who has over two decades of experience in the legal profession, says justice is not a simple matter of right and wrong, black and white. The process of justice has many grey areas, she says, with underlying factors of poverty, addiction and mental health as some of the root causes of crime.
In a community justice program, she explains, several agencies from the community –legal, health and social — could play a role in working with offenders.
Sometimes, she says, the formal legal process is not the answer.
Fines and jail terms are not the solution if the underlying factors of poverty and mental health are not considered.
Through an alternative justice system, she says, with members of the community involved, the offender not only faces the consequences for their crime but would be directed to resources to help deal with the underlying factor that led to the crime.
Reid says a base of 50 to 100 volunteers would be ideal to create a community justice program for this area, to ensure it’s not onerous for any volunteer in terms of time commitment.
“The more input and feedback we get from the community the more successful and sustainable this kind of program can be,” she says.
Reid draws on her own experience to give an example of a situation where alternative justice might have served a client better than the formal court process.
During her legal career in Ontario, she recalls, she defended a woman who had stolen a $5 block of cheese, even though the woman had money in her purse to pay for it.
The underlying cause was mental illness, says Reid.
“I did everything I could to try to keep her out of jail, because jail would not have solved anything for her,” Reid reflects. In the end, the Criminal justice system, and the letter of the law, deemed the woman would spend 30 days locked up.
It did nothing to help solve the underlying issue, says Reid.
She’s hopeful other people in the community feel the same about justice and would be willing to help create an alternative for people like that.
“It’s up to the community what they would want to build” in terms of an alternative justice program here, says Reid.
More insight into the idea will be offered later today with the help of Reid, Chief Misel Joe and Brad Squires from the RCMP.
The round table discussion runs 5-7 p.m. at the Legion Hall in Clarenville, 29 Legion Road.
For more information about today’s forum, contact: Jennyreid@legalaid.nl.ca or phone 466-7138.